Neighbors of The Community Inn homeless shelter air concerns

bfortune@herald-leader.comMarch 21, 2012 

Steve Crook lives less than a block from The Community Inn, an overnight homeless shelter at 824 Winchester Road, and he said the shelter has created continuous problems for neighbors and nearby businesses.

"The number one issue is folks get there hours before the place opens. They can't get inside, so they loiter on the sidewalks. They go to the bathroom in the street. Children can't go outside and play," said Crook.

"I appreciate all that people who deal with the homeless are doing, but this shelter is too close to a residential area," Crook said. "It should be located someplace else."

Staff from Emmanuel Apostolic Church, which runs The Community Inn, and the Catholic Action Center, a partner in the shelter, called a neighborhood meeting Wednesday night to hear from residents and business owners.

A chief complaint was about the homeless loitering on streets hours before the shelter opens.

Patty Merritt, owner of Bob Mook's auto repair shop directly behind the shelter, said she has had to post a no-trespassing sign, put up a security camera and call police about people standing nearby smoking and drinking, "and their language is terrible."

She also said one man fell against her building and broke the window. She sent the bill to the church, "but I never heard one thing back," Merritt said.

The Community Inn opened in April. It can accept up to 75 people a night. It does not serve food. Shelter doors open at 7 p.m. People have to be out by 8 a.m. the next day.

"The problem of loitering has been continuous" since the Inn opened, said Larry Jakobi, who owns two commercial buildings across Winchester Road. He said he shoos away people who sit under trees next to his buildings and scare customers who are coming in and out.

Jakobi said neighbors have to be involved in the solutions. "We have to help the homeless population. We can't push these people away," he said. If people come early because they're afraid they might not get a bed, that indicates the facility is too small, Jakobi said.

Ginny Ramsey, co-director of the Catholic Action Center, said she, her staff and Elder James McDonald, pastor of Emmanuel Apostolic Church, would start immediately to address problems.

Ramsey recommended that the hours of the security guard who patrols around the Inn be extended. The guard now patrols from 7 to 9 a.m. and 5 to 7 p.m., having people sit or stand near the shelter and keeping them off neighborhood streets. She said the guard should start patrolling at 3 p.m.

David Christiansen, moderator for the meeting, suggested a reservation system so a person would know when he left the shelter in the morning that he had a bed reserved for that night. Also, hours of the Inn might be extended. In addition, there needs to be better communication between the church, the Catholic Action Center and neighbors, he said.

The neighborhood meeting drew some high-level attention. In the audience were Derek Paulsen, commissioner of planning; Beth Mills, commissioner of social services; Chris King, director of planning; David Jarvis, director of code enforcement; and Urban County Councilman Bill Farmer, whose 5th District includes The Community Inn.

Beverly Fortune: (859) 231-3251. Twitter: @BFortune2010

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